New Zealand songbird Brooke Fraser is Familiar with the classic prayer of serenity, about changing the things in your life that you can and being wise enough to understand the ones you can’t. It’s how she arrived at “Brutal Romantic,” her dark, ethereal new fourth effort she promoting in concert in The City.
The singer, who turned 30 last year and relocated to Hollywood, compartmentalized her first three albums as a complete folk-flavored trilogy, and deliberately set out to find a new sound.
She did, with “Romantic,” with its thought-provoking processionals “Kings + Queens” (co-penned with her husband, Scott Ligertwood) and “Psychosocial,” which warns of the dangers of too much social media.
It took courage, and careful planning.
“I really felt like it was time for something new,” says Fraser, a devout Christian who never wanted to be pigeonholed as a gospel artist. So there was the excitement of that, then also the slight terror of not knowing exactly what that was. I just knew that there would be a process – and not necessarily an easy process, either – of discovering what that was.”
She came up with a list of hard and fast rules to advance her career to the next level.
Edict No. 1: No noodling on piano or strumming acoustic guitar, her go-to instruments for past hits like “Something in the Water.”
“I made myself a beginner again,” Fraser says. “I bought a Midi keyboard, a Logic Prop, and some studio headphones, and I sat around creating new sonic soundscapes. I even made some beats with it, which is hilarious, because I’m not exactly a hip-hop kid. But being a beginner again, you don’t what you’re not supposed to do, so there’s a whole new world of creativity at your fingertips,” she says.
Fraser asked friends for co-writer suggestions, which she explored. On “Thunder,” she collaborated with Aqualung’s Matt Hales, and on “Magical Machine” and “Je Suis Pret,” she worked with Dan Wilson and Kid Harpoon, respectively. She even journeyed to the Swedish island of Gotland, just to compose “New Histories” with Tobias Froberg. She also met with songwriters in London, but few of the sessions clicked. David Kosten co-produced “Brutal,” she says, “because I needed a partner like that to create the sounds that I heard in my head.”
Ultimately, Fraser wanted to be reckless, musically. “So I started inserting some spiky, left-of-center things where everything was sounding really lovely,” she says. After recording a plush orchestra at Abbey Road with several mics, “We only used a 1940s Ribbon microphone for some sections, and put the others through a tape delay. We screwed with it a bit, but breaking some of those rules was really fun.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 26
Contact: (415) 771-1421, www.ticketfly.com